Staying Connected While Social Distancing: A Guide for Parents and Kids

Guest blog by Sonya Kurzweil, Ph.D |

Practicing Psychologist, Newton MA

Part-time Lecturer, Psychiatry Dept, Harvard Medical School

Senior Lecturer, William James College

In some ways the current need for social distancing harkens to an earlier time in American history.   A more simple time when most activities centered on and around home.  In olden days, while social circles and sources of entertainment centered around family, many family members including aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, were over the river and through the woods, not in densely populated spaces where so many of us live today.  Social distancing might have been easier then.  Also, because it was before Freud[1] and Piaget[2], children were not expected to be fully conscious[3].   Today’s parents know better.  They recognize that childhood is an emotionally sensitive time.   And they are very stressed by how to explain to kids what is going on now and what needs to be done. 

How to explain to kids what is going on and what they need to know about social distancing

Children ages 3-12 years should not have difficulty understanding or be made needlessly anxious by explanations using the following wording:  

There is something like a bad flu going around called new coronavirus

It is especially bad for old people and people that have certain medical problems

It is much less bad if kids catch it

It is very easy to catch and to give to other people

We need to try hard not to catch it especially since we could easily give it to people who could get very sick from it and even die.

Because of this we need to keep our distance from others which means not going to school and stopping group activities for now.

It is not necessary to explain all of this at once. And you may modify or leave off parts if you feel they are not suitable for your child.  Also, you may anticipate having to repeat some of it, depending on what questions and comments arise.  Do validate your child’s feelings of being anxious, frustrated or angry, if they are expressed.  The idea is to sound authoritative not authoritarian.  In this way, children are made to feel secure.  The goal is to reinforce a sense that things are under control and that children are safe.   As well, let kids know what they can do to stay healthy and connected.  

What kids and families can do to stay healthy and connected

In this regard, it should be beneficial to devise a daily schedule that includes some of the following:

1. Connect with being a good citizen by following health guidelines about washing hands, not spreading germs when sneezing, staying 6 feet from people, not going on play dates (Sorry, just for now so as not to catch and spread the bad sickness that is going around, you can explain.)

2. Connect with school by keeping up with work by following the school backpacks created for you by your teachers.

3. Connect with arts by listening to music and learning from fun YouTube videos on drawing, painting, collaging.

4. Connect with science.  There are YouTube videos on learning to code and to identify birds and flowers.

5. Connect intellectually by reading.  Start a family book club.

6. Connect with “community service” by helping mom and dad with cooking, yard work and spring cleaning. 

7.  Connect with nature by taking a walk, hike or bike ride.   Being in the natural world is a great way to relieve stress as well as get exercise. 

8. Connect with grandma and grandpa, aunts, uncles, cousins, by getting on Zoom.  

9.  Stay connected with friends on age appropriate social media!!

It’s mind boggling to think that just about everyone in the world is going through this.  Even every kid.  The optimist in me hopes that this may somehow lead to a greater  appreciation of our shared humanity and to a more empathic humanity.  For real, we have many smart people all over the world working on cures/vaccine to save people from getting sick.  We have had other diseases like this one for which we have found cures.  We will find one for this one too.   

Try to stay calm and productive.

[1] Freud, S. Analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy.  Jb. Psychoanal. Psycho-pathol. Forsch, I. 1909: 1-109.

[2] Piaget, J. The Origins of Intelligence in Children (M. Cook, Trans.). New York: International Universities Press; 1952.

[3] DeMause, L. The History of  Childhood.  Univ of Michigan: Psychohistory Press; 1974. 

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